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How the JCC Movement Celebrated Black History Month This Year

By Jane E. Herman

As Black History Month draws to a close, JCC Association of North America is pleased to share this round-up of some of the creative and innovative ways the JCC Movement honored, commemorated, and celebrated Black individuals, culture, and community this year.

  • In a collaboration between the Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque and the New Mexico Holocaust Museum, a three-part, interactive, online series, “Blacks, Jews, and Jazz,” explored the unique ways African-Americans and American Jews have interacted through jazz.
  • The JCA of Southern Maine together with the Maine Jewish Film Festival offered access to the documentary “Shared Legacies: The African-American Jewish Civil Rights Alliance,” which tells the story of the coalition and friendship between the Jewish and African-American communities during the Civil Rights Movement. As part of the program, viewers also received a recording of Barbara Merson, executive director of the Maine Jewish Film Festival, and Robert Weisbrot, a history professor at Colby College, discussing the film.
  • Thanks to a grant from the Covenant Foundation to the Edlavitch JCC in Washington, D.C., Theater J’s new initiative, Expanding the Canon, will commission seven playwrights who are Jews of Color in a learning process that includes studying modern Jewish history, Jewish theater, and Jewish texts, to create new full-length plays that thematically and visually center diverse Jewish narratives, correcting and broadening the historically limited portrayals of Jewishness on stages in the U.S. and around the world.
  • The Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan in New York City offered an online United Nations Black history tour that included the Transatlantic Slave Trade (1500-1900), the victory over apartheid, and the Ark of Return, a permanent memorial in honor of victims of slavery, located on the United Nations Visitors Plaza.
  • At the Sidney Albert JCC in Albany, New York, members tuned into a webinar, Conflict & Common Ground: A Conversation on Black-Jewish History Month, offered by OpenDor Media and the Jewish Federations of North America, to explore the histories of Jewish and Black communities and discuss their intersections and overlaps. Based on a four-part video series, the webinar featured its creators, members of Congress, and Jewish communal leaders.
  • A JCC Racial Healing Circle was featured as part of Black History Month at the JCC of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains, where such circles are a cornerstone of the J’s Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Initiative. More than conversation, this initiative seeks to engage individuals in the hard work of uniting people to unearth inequity and systemic racism wherever it exists.
  • In Orlando, Florida, at the Rosen JCC, the J’s homepage includes this message from CEO Dr. Rueben Romirowsky, stressing that “[w]e need to continue the work of our ancestors and leaders,…fighting for social justice, humanity, inclusion, and equality.” As part of this work, “the Rosen JCC will devote part of its ECLC kindergarten curriculum…to learn[ing] about significant figures in the civil rights movement.”
  • The 92nd Street Y, on New York City’s Upper East Side, used Black Jewish History/Black Jewish Futures Month to recognize and celebrate the lives of Black Jews in the United States. In a series of online events, Black Jewish leaders—Robin Washington, Ilana Kaufman, and Cantor David Fair—explored experiences of Black Jews related to activism, music, and communal leadership.
  • Members of the Miles Nadal JCC in Toronto, Ontario, participated in an online lecture and concert series, Roots, Rhythm, and Resilience: Musical Intersections of Black and Jewish Diasporas, that explored the cultural, musical, and political intersectionality of Black and Jewish cultures throughout the centuries. Musicians and educators Denise Williams and Jordan Klapman were guest speakers.
  • The JCC of San Francisco in California hosted an in-person screening of “Loving,” the film based on the landmark Supreme Court case of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, versus Virginia, whose laws did not recognize their marriage as legal. The following week, retired attorney Oak Dowling, JD, gave on online lecture that examined the Court’s decision that struck down all state laws banning interracial marriage as violations of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
  • JCC Metrowest in West Orange, New Jersey, offered staff an opportunity to step back from their routines to gather for a conversation that honored both Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March. The springboard for the conversation was Erica Armstrong Dunbar’s book, “Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave Ona Judge.” In it, Dunbar tells the story of the brave woman who ran away from the Washingtons and was never caught, which educated many at the J about this little known piece of American history.
  • The Goldberg Family Early Childhood Center at the Aaron Family JCC of Dallas had a display of Black History Month resources that included ideas to reflect upon, as well as an array of books for young students. Among them were “Whose Toes Are Those,” “Baby Goes to Market,” and “One Love,” based on Bob Marley’s hit song by the same name.

Jane E. Herman is the senior writer at JCC Association of North America. Email her at [email protected].

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